Do world class guitars come out of Lincolnshire? Yew better believe it…
Words: Joel McIver Images: Joby Sessions
Lincoln-based luthier Adrian Lucas has been building guitars (plus the occasional mandolin and bass) since 1990, and has spent the intervening 26 years honing his skills to a fine degree, judging by this splendid example of his work. Take this Pergola – a no-cutaway, shorter-scale variant of the normal Pergola design – from its hard case and you’ll be drooling instantly, as you’d expect for the princely sum of £2500. But is such a petite instrument worth its wince-making pricetag? Let’s find out.
Usually our review guitars arrive tuned to E or D, but the Pergola – quite sensibly, in view of the neck-warping effect that courier transit can have on fully-tuned guitars – is strung completely slack out of the box. No problem, let’s get those crisp-sounding Newtone 12 to 53s tuned up: it’s the only real way to evaluate the machine heads, after all.
You can’t fault these heavy gold Gotoh 510 units: solid as a rock but responsive, they allow us to get tuned and ready to roll with no complaints.
While we’re gazing at the head end, thumbs up to Lucas for that sleek headstock design: more than a few acoustic luthiers are beginning to opt for a small head as a nod to the ease of use and effortless balance that is common in electric-guitar world. The neck is also a thing of beauty, neither finished too stickily or too slippery for expression. That said, there are only 12 accessible frets, so don’t expect to barre any chords with comfort above C on the bottom E string, unless you have the hands of a marmoset.
As you’d justifiably expect for this outlay, the Pergola is all about detail, from the hand-signed and numbered certificate inside the body to the slick plastic sheet which functions as a scratchplate. There’s a (presumably fortuitous) streak of blonde along the laburnum fingerboard, just underneath the top E string; as well as looking attractive, it serves a purpose in that it delineates the lower edge of the neck.
Is anything missing? Well, there are no strap buttons, which won’t be an issue if you’re planning to play the Pergola seated. If you need them, get Lucas to install them. You wouldn’t try it yourself, with that old Black & Decker drill… would you? And obviously this guitar is not equipped with a pickup or preamp: I would love to have tried it plugged in, but no matter – its acoustic tone is splendiferous anyway.
The combination of tonewoods here, as well as the excellent build quality, lies at the core of the Pergola’s performance. The body is a combination of walnut, laminated with oak, topped with spruce and decorated with a yew rosette. That’s a resonant chunk of forest, right there: the dense walnut in particular lends the tone a depth that is both needed and appreciated in a guitar body of this size. The clean, clear spruce tone that you’re already familiar with if you’re reading Acoustic gives the Pergola a glassy, cutting top end that rounds off the overall range beautifully.
As for the laburnum bridge and fingerboard, you may not have considered this wood in much detail before (although don’t those dangly yellow flowers look nice in the garden?) but rest assured it’s hard, tactile and visually attractive in use. Lucas’s bridge design is particularly successful, combining a remarkably slick design with functional operation.
You’ll notice that the Pergola responds especially well to fingerpicking, especially at the top end, where a hamfisted pluck of the top E or B will result in a volume spike if you’re not careful. It’s a user-friendly instrument, though, and in line with its thoroughbred heritage will react well to careful handling. Tune down to drop D and you’ll enjoy the full, resonant tone and feel of the bottom E string: go to straight D (those Gotohs really are a pleasure to tweak) and the Pergola’s lower frequencies come to life. For a smaller guitar, it supplies a surprising amount of volume, as you’ll see if you give it a strum. Don’t be shy: give it some serious downpicking force and the instrument will reward you with phenomenal sustain and clarity. In a small room, those missing electronics won’t seem necessary after all.
Try DADGAD for the full folk experience (we admit, an onboard tuner would have come in handy here) and you’ll be provided with a warm drone from all those D notes, emanating from the soundhole with clarity and rewarding your ‘folk-baroque’ (© Davey Graham, RIP) fingerstyle with a rich, full tone. If you feel the urge to cross the Atlantic, add a capo at the third fret and indulge in some James Taylor-style country-rock whimsy, that recognisable tone is easily found thanks to its compact dimensions.
Some serious design expertise has clearly gone into the concept of the body. As I mentioned before, Lucas also produce a slightly larger, 16-fret version of the Pergola with a lower cutaway, at around the same price. Performers who plan to use their Lucas live, or with more upper-register musical content, should give that variant a thorough assessment before committing. But if you plump for the one we have here, you’ll be impressed by the D-shaped neck profile, whose flat (or flattish, anyway) rear surface enables and facilitates speedy barre-chord changes and provides a solid thumb platform for more delicate playing. The rounded hips at the bottom end are comfortable on the lap and unobstructive to your picking arm, too.
Like all handbuilt instruments, or indeed furniture and other wooden artefacts, there’s a real sense of handmade craftmanship about the Pergola. There are no flaws in the construction that we can see or feel, so we’re not talking about irregularities or errors: there’s just something about the finish, which is necessarily different from a machine-made guitar. In many ways this hard-to-define quality is what you’re paying all that money for, in addition to the high-quality components, of course. The Pergola gives you a very real sense that it’s a one-off,
just as its certificate number (125 in this case) indicates.
Our conclusion? Lucas doesn’t have the biggest name in acoustic lutherie, but that means nothing when he is capable of producing instruments such as this one. This and Lucas’ other guitars absolutely deserve checking out next time you’re in the market for a guitar at this wallet-threatening price point.
Need to Know
Manufacturer: A.J. Lucas
Body Size: Grand Concert
Made In: UK
Top: European spruce, yew rosette
Back and Sides: English walnut, laminated to double thickness with inner lamination of oak
Neck: Reclaimed Honduras mahogany
Tuners: Gotoh 510
Nut Width: 45mm
Scale Length: 24.9”/632mm
Onboard Electrics: None
Strings Fitted: Newtone 12-52 Phosphor Bronze
Gig Bag/Case Included: Hiscox hard case
Acoustic test results
Pros: Punches above its weight in tone and volume; exquisite build
Cons: No strap buttons… okay, it’s a minor point
Overall: Utterly beautiful example of guitar craftsmanship